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Nation’s youngest lack teachers

Primary school students exit school grounds in Phnom Penh earlier this year
Primary school students exit school grounds in Phnom Penh earlier this year. Heng Chivoan

Nation’s youngest lack teachers

Fewer and fewer primary schoolteachers are willing to cope with poor pay and the worst student-to-teacher ratio outside of Africa, government data shows.

Annual reports released by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport reveal that despite fervent recruitment efforts, every year since 2005 – when it began keeping track – the number of primary-school teachers has declined.

“[The ministry is] recruiting fewer than the number of teachers they aim to [5,000 a year] and more are dying, retiring or resigning than are being recruited,” said Leng Theavy, campaign and advocacy coordinator at the NGO Education Partnership (NEP), which released a study on the nation’s teacher shortage in May.

In the 2005-06 school year, the Kingdom listed just 50,378 primary school teachers for more than 2.5 million students. Last year, the number of teachers dropped to 44,840.

The dearth of primary school teachers has created one of the worst pupil-to-instructor ratios in the world; with 48.5 students per primary school teacher last year, Cambodia had the 16th-highest ratio in all countries monitored by UNESCO.

“It is really a problem … because the training at the primary school level is the most important. All students must pass primary school before they can continue their education,” said Rong Chhun, president of the Cambodian Independent Teachers’ Association.

In contrast to the dwindling number of primary school educators, the number of secondary school teachers has steadily increased. Last year, the ministry reported 38,211 secondary school teachers (up from 25,520 in 2005) for just over 823,000 students, 21.5 pupil-per-teacher ratio less than half that of the primary classrooms.

“Part of the decline [in the number of primary school teachers] is that some are applying to work in secondary schools since the qualifications are the same, but the hours are not as long and the pay is better,” said Dinah Dimalanta, integrated programs director at World Vision.

According to NEP’s study, primary school instructors could get paid double the wage for two-thirds the hours at secondary schools.

“It’s no secret that the salary for teachers in Cambodia is very low compared to other countries,” Dimalanta said.

Though the ministry just raised teaching staff salaries in September, primary school teachers’ wages still fall below the average GDP per capita of $85.33 per month.

Starting primary school teachers now earn $80 a month (up from $66), which NEP found wasn’t enough for a family of four to buy enough food to meet basic caloric requirements. Upper secondary teachers make $154 per month.

“In order to solve the primary school teacher shortage, I think the education ministry must … increase the salary and improve teachers’ living standards,” Chhun said.

Though the ministry has said they plan on a series of salary hikes, they declined to comment on teacher shortages.

“It is a huge problem, because in the long run, it will result in poor teaching and learning outcomes,” Dimalanta said. “I think the government is already starting to address the problem, but not to the extent we were hoping.”

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